1. Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life by Jonathan Bate (Harper)
This biography of the late British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, perhaps best known in the United States as husband of the tragic Sylvia Plath, was among the recently announced nominees for the £20,000 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. The book, by Oxford professor of English Bate, has garnered not only accolades but – often no less helpful for book sales – controversy, as Hughes’s wife Carol has claimed it is riddled with errors.
2. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Jamaican novelist Marlon James (Riverhead)
This inventive novel inspired by a 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley, by the Jamaican-born James, won the Man Booker Prize – the global big time. James’s fictional study of the bloody world of Jamaican politics, gangs, and drugs, was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Prize last spring, and won the Cleveland Foundation’s annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, which honors books dealing with race and diversity.
3. The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (Viking)
In her novel March, Brooks revived the absent father in Little Women and imagined a life for him fighting on the Union side of the Civil War – and won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize. A fiction writer who is brilliant at reimagining the past, Brooks now brings the legendary biblical warrior King David to life in a novel told from the perspective of Natan, a prophet, with a full chorus of characters who are witnesses to the horror of war and violence.
4. Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello (Blue Rider Press)
The British singer-songwriter and musician, included in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, casts a relentless gaze over a career that has included a not only remarkable music but partnerships with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Burt Bacharach, Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams and Paul McCartney. In this memoir, which Costello is said to have written himself, he owns up to his infamous behavior. “The only reason to write about a life in show business,” he told The Guardian, “is to point out the absurdity of it all, because very little is consequential.”
5. A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction by Patrick J. Kennedy and Stephen Fried (Blue Rider Press)
Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Sister by Kate Clifford Larson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
There seems to be infinite interest in tragic royal families, and the Kennedys fulfill that need in our non-monarchical nation, as evidenced by these two books, both bestsellers. Senator Ted Kennedy’s son recounts his addiction problems and his bipolar issues, which came to light when he was a Rhode Island congressman. From a different perspective, Larson tells the story of Rosemary Kennedy, the intellectually disabled sister of JFK, and her disastrous lobotomy, after which she was hidden away and ignored for decades.